Wichita State closer Cale Elam has made a habit of surviving leadoff walks this season.
On Tuesday, it caught up to him.
Oral Roberts rallied for four runs in the ninth and handed Wichita State an 8-7 loss at Eck Stadium. On most nights, it's the kind of defeat that batters coach Gene Stephenson's spirit and leaves him angry at every misstep.
Not Tuesday. He absolved Elam of blame and turned the focus to this weekend's Missouri Valley Conference series against Indiana State.
"He's been really good all year long," Stephenson said. "We had the guy out there who's always done the job this year for us. I'd rather it happen here than Indiana State."
Elam took much the same philosophical path after giving up four hits and four runs, three earned, in the ninth. He didn't record an out in the inning, raising his ERA from 0.85 to 1.69. He allowed more than one run for the first time since Feb. 27 and more than one run earned run for the first time in 23 appearances this season.
"I felt like I made some good pitches tonight," he said. "They just put better swings on them. I'm not going to beat myself up over it because we've got a big series this weekend."
Despite his impressive numbers, Elam does have a knack for making things tough on himself. He hadn't allowed a run in 11 straight appearances, but he walked five batters in his past 7 2/3 innings. For a closer, that's dangerous territory.
Oral Roberts (26-18) knew the scouting report.
"We knew he had a lot of walks on the season, so we were trying to wait for a strike," right fielder Nick Baligod said.
On Tuesday, Elam walked No. 9 hitter Spencer Barnett to start the ninth while protecting a 7-4 lead.
"Those leadoff walks will come back and get you every time," Elam said. "Any time that happens, you're not looking too pretty no matter what the score is."
The walk brought the top of the order up. Baligod doubled a 3-2 pitch over the base into right field to start unraveling Elam.
"Getting a runner on with no outs is crucial in that situation," Baligod said. "That really helped us."
Joey Winiecki singled up the middle to score Barnett and cut WSU's lead to 7-5. Brandon King punched a ball into right field to score Baligod. Cleanup hitter Chris Elder, who hit a three-run homer in the third, blooped a slider into short left field, scoring Winiecki from third with the tying run. When left fielder Micah Green couldn't barehand the ball on a bounce, King scored to give ORU an 8-7 lead.
"The ball that was hit up the middle, that was not a good pitch at all," Elam said.
Stephenson pulled Elam after Elder's hit, still with no outs. T.J. McGreevy kept the Golden Eagles within one run with two groundball outs and a flyball. Second baseman Walker Davidson threw out Elder at the plate for the second out of the inning.
Oral Roberts closer Matt Rush didn't give the Shockers much hope in the bottom of the ninth. He struck out Johnny Coy and Tyler Coughenour before walking Don Lambert. Green grounded out to second base to end the game.
WSU (30-23) took a 3-0 lead in the first inning on Preston Springer's three-run home run. Kevin Hall's sacrifice fly made it 4-0 in the second.
ORU tied it in the third against WSU starter Zach Beringer, scoring four runs with two outs. Baligod's home run started the damage. Elder's home run tied the game.
WSU regained the lead with a run in the bottom of the third. It went up 7-4 when Springer singled in two runs with two outs in the sixth.